The Group

Scholars at an academic institute.

The Program

I led this discussion as part of an academic institute on the study of civic life and citizenship. My goal was to introduce this kind of discussion to them as an example of the role the humanities can and should play in the growing field of civic studies. For the discussion I chose two poems on the theme of walls in civic life.


I began by asking participants to talk with a neighbor or two about a wall they love and a wall they hate; I encouraged them to think about literal walls but did not insist upon it. Next we read the Frost aloud and discussed the narrator's character and motives (Why doesn't he say what he thinks?) and the value of the wall and the mending ritual, about which there was substantial disagreement. After 30 minutes or so we read the Komunyakaa aloud and together tried to identify its patterns of imagery and its meanings. How does the poet approach the wall? How does his race affect his relation to the wall? In closing, I invited participants to think about walls we "mend" or "face" in our own communities, but I did not invite discussion of either question.

Next Time

I would allow time to discuss that closing question, about walls we mend and walls we face.

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